Harbourmasters in some of the country’s busiest stretches of water are calling for more power to investigate incidents where boats narrowly avoid colliding. They say it is only a matter of time before someone else is killed in a collision, and want to be able to try to stop any future accidents. ‘Sometimes it’s a daily basis, sometimes it’s multiple times a day,” says Marlborough Sounds harbourmaster Alex van Wijngaarden, who fears that too few of these close calls are actually being investigated. Port of Whangarei harbourmaster Ian Niblock agrees, saying that the near misses are of concern because they are an indication that there could potentially be fatal accidents. Officially called close quarter incidents, all near misses on the water are reported to Maritime New Zealand. However, they say they cannot look into every incident, and that investigations are decided on a case-by-case basis. Harbourmasters themselves can only ask for a person’s name and address after a close quarter incident, but they cannot investigate beyond that. They are calling for the power to conduct investigations in their own stretches of water. However, Associate Minister of Transport Nathan Guy is unaware of any issues raised by harbourmasters. “We think the current legislation is working pretty well.” says Guy.
Some would say that at some ports the Harbourmaster would be the last person to investigate a near miss. Some Harbourmasters have no experience nor qualifications and at one major NZ port the position of Harbourmaster is (or was) filled on a roster basis from senior executive staff.